A senior British diplomat is putting on his running shoes next month to participate in two marathons to raise funds for a remarkable Pakistani non-profit organisation.
Inspired by its stellar work in providing quality education to the underprivileged, the British Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi, Mike Nithavrianakis, will raise funds for The Citizens Foundation (TCF) by taking part in the London Marathon-- which holds the record as the world’s largest annual single-day fundraising event-- as well as the Manchester Marathon. Nithavrianakis will be running in the London Marathon on October 3 and in the Manchester Marathon on October 10.
During his stay in the United Kingdom (UK), he will also attend some small donor events being organised by TCF-UK, which is the foundation’s fund-raising entity in that country. Nithavrianakis, who has been posted in Karachi for two years, clarifies: “What I am doing for TCF is in a personal capacity. I am not running as the British deputy high commissioner or British trade director. I am just running as a friend of Pakistan and a friend of TCF.”
Over the last decade, the diplomat has also served in Afghanistan and India, and he shared how much he enjoyed living in the South Asia region. “This country [Pakistan] has been kind to me. I wanted to put something back. I felt this [fundraising] was the nicest, most transparent way of doing it.”
TCF is a professionally managed, non-profit organisation set up in 1995 by a group of citizens who wanted to bring about positive social change through education. Twenty-five years later, the foundation is now one of Pakistan’s leading organisations in the field of education for the less privileged. The foundation is the largest private employer of women in Pakistan with an all-female faculty of more than 12,000 teachers and principals with nearly 48 per cent of its students being girls.
TCF does not believe in teaching poor children in modest, ramshackle school buildings. Its founders, who are all businessmen, believed that the children of the poor should go to schools that are not unlike those were the children of the privileged go --and that is exactly what they have ensured since TCF was born. This is exactly the spirit that inspired the British deputy high commissioner to help the cause.
Talking to The News, TCF Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad explained how this unusual partnership was born. He shared how Nithavrianakis was acquainted socially with the TCF founders, most of whom were from Karachi’s business community.
“We got the opportunity to take him on a school visit to meet our students, teachers and alumni who really impressed him. That is when he decided to start an online campaign to raise funds,” he said. The British deputy high commissioner, he added, had raised Rs11.2 million for the foundation, which is the cost of sponsoring three schools.
“His target is to raise Rs20 million by the end of next month,” Ahmad said. Nithavrianakis has a dedicated page on TCF’s website, and he shares that page with people who can donate online. Whatever amount is donated in pounds is converted to Pakistani rupees. A British Pakistani woman, Nithavrianakis told The News, donated 100 British pounds -- equivalent to 21,800 Pakistani rupees. “She donated in the UK, but it was automatically calculated in Pakistani rupees and added to my page,” he explained.
According to the TCF CEO, the British deputy high commissioner had become a great advocate and ambassador of TCF. “Being a prominent British diplomat, his independent voice and validation will go a long way to encourage other donors to contribute to the cause as well,” Ahmad remarked.
Nithavrianakis shared how he met one of the leading lights and founders of TCF, Mushtaq Chhapra, and was greatly impressed by his work. “I heard about what work they were doing in the education sector, how many schools they had established, and how much support they got from the community, not only in Pakistan but internationally,” he said. “We have seen in other places [how] transformational it can be for a country to educate the young.”
The British envoy recalled Chappra telling him how TCF wanted to reach out to a broader category of people in the UK rather than only to the Pakistani community living there. The envoy said he felt he was in a position to raise the profile of TCF by using his links and his passion for running.
Chhapra, he said admiringly, was a ‘superstar’. The people behind TCF were just the right people to support, he added. Nithavrianakis is a career diplomat. He spent a vast majority of his life working for the British foreign ministry. He never went to university but joined the British Foreign Service from school in the mid-1980s at a very junior level. His father was Greek and mother Scottish and he grew up in Scotland.
He has two main roles in Pakistan. “I am the senior British government representative in Karachi with responsibility for the British government’s relations with Sindh and Balochistan. Those are the two provinces that I focus on from a foreign ministry perspective. But I have an additional role. I am a trade director for all of Pakistan,” he said as he explained that he had been working for both the British foreign and trade ministries.
He said he knew all the British companies doing business in Pakistan and also the major Pakistani companies, specifically those doing business in the UK.
He shared how British diplomats were posted for a minimum duration of 12 months and a maximum of two years. As the security situation has improved in Pakistan, they were looking forward to a longer duration of stay, he added.
What strikes him about Pakistan is “the very strong family culture and the importance of the family network”. He said the nature of Pakistani society was very similar to that of southern Europe.
The British deputy high commissioner stated that he felt a real connection with the healthcare and education sectors of Pakistan. He explained he had been impressed with how much philanthropic work happens in Karachi as well as across the country. He expressed his admiration for the people who had set up philanthropic organisations and run hospitals and schools as well as those who donated generously for such projects.
Nithavrianakis said he was particularly interested in supporting projects to help bring girls to school. He added that the British government through its Department for International Development has had a longstanding focus on education in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
It was a pleasant surprise to see how well-informed the British diplomat was about the education scenario in Pakistan, particularly Karachi. He knew the names of all the most upscale schools of the city and said how everyone knew about the Karachi Grammar School, Bay View, American School of Karachi, etc. “Those schools are for people who have financial means,” he said, adding that there were also many private schools where people were willing to spend money.
“What has amazed me about TCF is that they go to the poorest places, build a very nice campus and make sure that the teachers there — all women — are motivated. Nithavrianakis said there are 1,700 TCF schools in Pakistan, all of which had women teachers and principals. TCF, he said, is the biggest employer of women in the private sector of Pakistan, “a country where some people question whether women have the same access or opportunity as men. Here [is] a visible sign of what can be transformational in education.”
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